Skip to content

Subtle passes for Trump

Donald Trump has often claimed that our NATO allies are not paying what the owe. Normally, the way he phrases what he says, he leaves the impression that they owe the money to the United States. I’ve often wondered what he is talking about, and have searched in vain for explanations in the newspaper articles that cover those speeches. The reporters neither take issue with his statements nor endorse it, but of course, by failing to enlighten their readers, they leave the impression that there is some truth in what Trump is saying. This, of course, would appear to be highly unlikely if you’re a seasoned Trump watcher, since pretty much everything that falls out of his mouth is a lie. A good example here in today’s Boston Globe, in which the reporter gamefully tries to make the case that Trump has been somewhat “presidential” on his trip, judging of course by the new Trump scale. (It might be nice to adopt a “what would we be saying if Obama had done this” frame of reference.)

Here’s what the Globe reported:

Trump’s rhetoric on NATO, a favorite punching bag during the campaign, was probably modified the least during the trip. In Brussels Thursday, he sternly lectured assembled alliance leaders.

“NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump said, as many of them stood uncomfortably listening. The speech included a cutting remark about the gleaming building where he was giving his address.

“I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful,” Trump said, of the building that cost $1.2 billion. His intent was plainly to contrast its splendor to the alliance’s parsimony on defense.

European observers had hoped for a more concrete commitment to the mutual defense clause at the center of the treaty — that an attack on one member state is an attack on all. Trump’s staff tried to assuage allies.

Which leaves the reader pondering. Is Trump right? If so, doesn’t he have a point? But if he’s wrong, precisely what is going on here?

Well, as one would expect, Trump has no point, as Josh Marshal points out:

There are two funding issues with NATO. A few years ago, NATO decided to require all member states to spend 2% of GDP on defense spending. The great majority of member states currently spend less than 2%. The ones who do meet that number are the US and a handful of states mainly on NATO’s eastern periphery. But they have until 2024 to reach that goal. So even on the terms of the agreement itself, they’re not behind.

But the key point is that these are not payments owed to the US. They are spending on each country’s own military. There are lots of reasons for that, not least of which is keeping the alliance a real alliance and not one superpower military along with other armies which are either so small or have such low readiness that they don’t add to the force the US can bring to bear on its own.

The relevant point is that that this is a relatively new agreement, which most of the key states are increasing spending to meet – though some faster than others. They’re not behind schedule. They have until 2024.

Separately there are direct contributions from each member state to NATO’s joint operations, costs of the specifically NATO activities etc. – a bit under $1.5 billion. The US pays by far the largest share of that. But that’s because the contributions are based on a formula that broadly tracks national wealth. The US pays 22%, Germany pays 14.6%, France 10.6%, Britain 9.84%. So it’s judged on the basis of ability to pay.

In any case, these are pretty piddling amounts in the big picture: the US direct cash contribution to NATO is 2 or 3 hundred million dollars a year. Trump himself should hit that number with Mar-a-Lago visits soon.

via Talking Points Memo

Would it be so hard for the print media to put a condensed version of this into their stories to, you know…, make sure their readers know the facts? We often hear people bemoaning the ignorance of the American people (e.g., most Americans think a huge percentage of our budget goes into foreign aid), but why is that ignorance surprising when those to whom we look to provide context rarely do so?

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.